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Christian Living

The Bible Tells the Church to Meet Together, Worship, and Witness

We Can’t Witness for Jesus When We Sequester Ourselves on Sunday Mornings

Just before Jesus leaves this world to return to heaven, he instructs his followers to go into the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). In an expanded version of this incident, Jesus tells his followers to wait for Holy Spirit power and then be his witness, both near and far (Acts 1:4-9).

Witness and Make Disciples

The church of Jesus doesn’t do a good job of being witnesses and making disciples. To do so requires an outward perspective, yet most all churches have an inward focus: they care for their own to the peril of outsiders, with many churches excelling in doing so.

Yes, God values community and wants us to meet together (Hebrews 10:25). And the Bible is packed with commands and examples of worshiping God, with Jesus noting that “true worshipers” will worship God in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).

Meeting Together and Worship

Most churches do the meeting together part reasonably well, albeit with varying degrees of success. Many of those churches have a time of worship as they meet together, though perhaps not always “in the Spirit” or even “in truth.”

Yet few churches look outside their walls in order to go into their community to witness and make disciples. Though Jesus said to wait for the Holy Spirit, he didn’t say to wait for people to come to us, to come to our churches so we could witness and disciple them.

No, we are supposed to leave our church buildings to take this work to them. We can’t do that at church on Sunday morning, safely snug behind closed doors.

Maybe we should forego the church service in order to be a church that serves. Click To Tweet

Go into the World as a Witness

Yes there is a time to come together and a time to worship, but there is also a time to go. And we need to give more attention to the going part.

I know of two churches that have sent their congregations out into their community on Sunday mornings, foregoing the church service in order to be a church that serves. One church did it a few times and stopped after they saw little results and received much grumbling.

The other church regularly plans this a few times each year and garners a positive influence on their community.

Shouldn’t every church make a positive impact on their community? Yet so few do. They are too busy meeting together and worshiping.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Read more about the book of Acts in Tongues of Fire: 40 Devotional Insights for Today’s Church from the Book of Acts, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. [Originally published as Dear Theophilus Acts.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Does Going to Church Make You a Christian?

The World’s Answer Doesn’t Align with the Truth

I recently read an article about church attendance that vexed me. It came from a Christian magazine. It addressed going to church. The author claimed to have statistical proof that Christians were turning their backs on their faith. What was the stat that caused him to make this rash conclusion?

Quite simply that overall church attendance is down. He made the erroneous assumption that church attendance equated to faith. In his mind, no church attendance meant no faith.

Sadly, I’ve heard the same misguided assumption too many times.

Joyce Meyer, however, smartly puts this in perspective. She says, “Just because you go to church doesn’t mean you’re a Christian. I can go sit in the garage all day and it doesn’t make me a car.”

Well said, Joyce.

Christians in Church

Many Christians attend church. Some go every week, some go once or twice a month, and a few go sporadically. That’s what good Christians do; they have a practice of going to church. At least that’s the conventional wisdom from those on the inside.

I’m there most every week, but the hour I spend at church each Sunday morning isn’t central to my faith. My faith grows most at other times of the week. The Sunday service is an ancillary practice.

Christians Not in Church

Yet not all Christians are in church on Sunday. Some stay away, either through circumstances or preference. I don’t view these folks as less than, even though most well-meaning church proponents do.

I don’t know who said it first, but many have repeated it over the years or agree with its sentiment. “I didn’t leave the church because I lost my faith. I left the church to keep it.”

Yes, there are those who stopped going to church because the experience detracted from their faith instead of enhancing it. Their meaningful spiritual experiences happen outside the four walls of the traditional church on Sunday morning.

Non-Christians in Church

There are three groups of people at most churches each Sunday:

  1. Christians
  2. People who think they’re Christians
  3. Non-Christians who want to learn more

Most churches are comprised of people in the first two groups. The third group rarely comes to church anymore. The church was once a respected institution, a safe place to go to find answers, but few in the non-churched portion of society feel that way anymore.

They may have needs, but they stay away. This brings us to the final category.

Non-Christians Not in Church

Aside from the people who think they’re Christians and aren’t, most non-Christians would never dream of walking into a church building to seek answers or have their spiritual needs met.

These people reside outside the church. If the church wants to reach them, they need to leave the comfort of their building and go out into the world to tell others about Jesus and make disciples (see Matthew 28:19-20).

Church is not a building. The true church of Jesus is the people who follow him as his disciples. Click To Tweet

The Truth about Church

In our discussion about church, we’ve not addressed the most critical consideration. That is, church is not a building. The true church of Jesus is the people. We are—or at least we should be—one united, universal collection of people who follow Jesus as his disciples.

Given this perspective, going to church each Sunday morning doesn’t matter too much. How we live our faith the other 167 hours of the week is where we need to focus.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

May I Have Your Attention Please?

A Large Catch

There’s a story in the Bible of Jesus instructing some fishermen to try fishing from the other side of the boat. Imagine that, a carpenter giving fishing lessons to commercial fishermen. The amazing thing is once they moved to the other side, they caught a boatload of fish. It was as if Jesus was trying to get their attention, and it worked.

In fact, it worked so well, he did it twice!

The first time was early in his ministry, when he was looking for disciples. He definitely got their attention, because they immediately left everything to follow him.

The second time was at the end of Jesus’ ministry, after he rose from the dead, but before he returned to heaven. The fishermen-turned-disciples didn’t know what to do after they saw Jesus die, so they resorted to fishing, but caught nothing.

Jesus hollers for them to try fishing from the other side of the boat. They did and another miraculous catch occurred. Again, he got their attention—and they believed he was alive.

Twice Jesus got their attention. The first time they followed him and the second time they believed in him.

[Luke 5:4-11 and John 21:4:14]

Read more in Peter’s new book, Living Water: 40 Reflections on Jesus’s Life and Love from the Gospel of John, available everywhere in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Who is Barsabbas?

Learn More about Barsabbas

Barsabbas is by no means a familiar character in the Bible. In fact, he is only mentioned twice—both times in the book of Acts. What makes him an intriguing fellow is his character and integrity.

You see, Barsabbas, along with Matthias, were both considered to become Judas’s replacement, to become the twelfth disciple. Instead of conducting interviews (as would be done nowadays) or even taking a vote, the decision was made by a game of chance. That seems a cavalier and unspiritual thing to do.

To do this, the people prayed for God’s guidance in this process, trusting him in the outcome—and then they drew lots. Matthias was selected (Acts 1:23-26). Barsabbas could have pouted, felt rejected, left the group in a huff, or been mad at the leaders.

He could have even been angry with God. After all, if God’s hand was really in this selection, as they had prayed, then it was God who decided to not pick Barsabbas. Its one thing for a person to tell you “no,” but for God to say “no” carries much more weight.

Yet we don’t hear of him having any of these negative responses. We see no indication that he reacted with disappointment. Apparently, he stuck around and continued to make God his priority and focus, for we next hear of him in Acts 15:22 where he was chosen to be part of an important delegation sent to Antioch.

He proved his true character in how he reacted to not being chosen—that’s integrity.

Read more about other people in the New Testament in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

9 Perspectives That We Must Change about Church

Re-examine Our Church Practices from a Biblical Viewpoint

Over the past few months, I published a series of posts about assumptions we should change about church.

Here is a list of all nine:

9 perspectives to change about church. Click To Tweet
  1. We Don’t Need a Church Building
  2. Exploring Church Staff from a Biblical Perspective
  3. How Much Money Does the Church Need?
  4. The Fallacy of Church Membership
  5. Seek First the Kingdom of God
  6. How Important Is Seminary for Today’s Church Leaders?
  7. We Must Rethink Sunday School
  8. Love God and Love Others: A Call to Christian Unity
  9. Make Disciples Not Converts

What perspectives should you change about your view of church? Pick the assumption that most convicts you and work to reform it, first in your mind and then in your practice.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Make Disciples Not Converts

We Should Do What Jesus Commands and Push Secondary Pursuits Aside

Jesus wants us to be his disciples. Each of the biographies of Jesus mention this. To be his disciple means to set all else aside and follow him (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, and Luke 14:26–33).

As his disciples he expects us to produce fruit, that is to help other people become disciples too (John 15:8). It’s clear. We need to make disciples.

Matthew’s biography of Jesus records his final instructions to his followers before he returns to heaven. Jesus tells his followers to go everywhere and make disciples (Matthew 28:18–20, which some call the Great Commission).

He doesn’t say he wants them to go and make converts. He wants disciples. Though believing in God is the first step, it’s not enough. Jesus wants more. He wants followers who go all in for him.

Much of today’s church has missed this call for discipleship. Instead they focus on conversions, such as praying a prayer, being baptized, or making a public declaration of belief in Jesus. But this is just the first step on a lifelong journey of faith, a journey into discipleship.

Jesus commands us to make disciples, yet few churches do this on a corporate level. And few people do this on a personal level.

When a person says “yes” to Jesus, that’s wonderful news and the angels celebrate (Luke 15:10). Yet too many churches then abandon those new believers and leave them to flounder (Luke 8:11–15).

Instead they should invest in that person and help them become a disciple of Jesus, just as he commanded. Then that person can go out and make another disciple.

If we all made disciples—just as Jesus instructed—there would be many more people following him and the world would be a much better place.

Jesus told us to go out and make disciples. We need to take this command seriously and obey it. Click To Tweet

Jesus told us to go out and make disciples. We need to take this command seriously and obey it. We can start today.

Read the first post in this series about things we must change in our discussion about our church buildings and facilities.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

The New Testament Approach to Church

Consider the Example of Jesus’s Followers in the Bible

The commands in the Old Testament about the tabernacle/temple, priesthood, and tithe are clear. The New Testament, however, lacks specific instructions for us to follow. But this doesn’t mean we should adhere to the Old Testament model as a default.

Instead we look at the practices of the early church to guide us in our interactions with God, to worship, serve, and tell the world about Jesus. We need to be a New Testament church.

Let’s start with Stephen. In his lengthy message before the Sanhedrin, he reminds those gathered that God does not live in the temple, in a house built by people (Acts 7:48-50).

But Stephen isn’t spouting a new idea. He quotes Isaiah (Isaiah 66:1-2). This verse finds support from other Old Testament passages (1 Kings 8:27 and 2 Chronicles 2:6).

Even in the Old Testament God is already countering his people’s idea that he lives in the temple, and that they must go there to engage with him.

Remember that God didn’t issue his commands about the temple, priests, and tithes until after the people refused to let him speak to them directly and insisted that Moses stand in for them (Exodus 19:6).

Could it be that God gave his people the temple, priests, and tithes as a concession to their desire to keep him at a distance?

Interesting.

Regardless, Jesus fulfills this Old Testament way to approach God.

What does this mean for us? What should change? Let’s look at the New Testament narrative to gather insight in how to adapt God’s Old Testament model of temple, priests, and tithes into a New Testament approach to church.

The New Testament church meets in homes. Click To Tweet

They Meet in Homes

The first place Jesus’s followers meet after he returns to heaven is in the upper room, a part of someone’s home (Acts 1:13).

They spend time at the temple (Acts 2:46, Acts 3:1, and Acts 5:20) and visit synagogues on the Sabbath (Acts 9:20, Acts 13:14, and Acts 14:1)—until they’re no longer welcome (Acts 18:7). They also meet in public spaces (Acts 16:13 and Acts 19:9).

Mostly they meet in people’s homes (Acts 2:46, Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, and Philemon 1:2). But this isn’t a once-a-week occurrence. They meet daily to eat together (Acts 6:1) and encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13).

The early church continues in their practice of meeting in people’s homes for about three centuries.

At this time, Constantine legalizes Christianity and begins building churches. This starts a shift from gathering in people’s homes—as the early church practiced—back to going to dedicated worship spaces—as the Old Testament did.

The book of Hebrews confirms this transition. It states that the Old Testament tabernacle is an earthly, manmade sanctuary and part of the first covenant—the Old testament way (Hebrews 9:1-2). Whereas Jesus, as our high priest, gives us a more perfect tabernacle, one not manmade (Hebrews 9:11).

The New Testament church serves a priests. Click To Tweet

They Serve as Priests

We’ve already covered that as Jesus’s followers we are his holy and royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). John also confirms that Jesus made us to be his priests (Revelation 1:6, Revelation 5:10, and Revelation 20:6).

In Hebrews we read that just as the priesthood changed—through Jesus—the law must change as well (Hebrews 7:12). In one grand stroke, God’s law of the Old Testament becomes Jesus’s love in the New Testament. (Not only does the priesthood change in this transition, but so do the accompanying practices of temple and tithe.)

The book of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is our high priest (Hebrews 3:1). This makes him the ultimate priest, with us looking to him as an example of how to be priests serving under him.

As followers of Jesus we are his priests, a holy priesthood, a nation of priests. Are we doing this? No. Instead we hire clergy to work as our modern-day priests, serving as our intermediary between God and us.

We’re not functioning as we should as God’s priests. We delegate this holy responsibility to a select few who have put in their time at seminary and received their ordination papers.

Yet God expects us to obey his call to serve as his holy nation of priests. What are we waiting for? What must we do? There are three elements to address in serving our Lord as priests: minister to those in his church, tell others about him, and worship him.

1. Minister to Those in the Church: God intends all those in his family to serve as priests. We’re all priests. This means there are none in our group who aren’t. Within our church—where everyone is a priest—there’s no longer a role to represent God to his people.

As priests we can all approach him directly, without the need for an intermediary.

Within the church body, as priests we minister to each other. As Jesus’s priests we need to love one another and treat each other as the New Testament tells us to.

2. Tell Others about Jesus: In the Old Testament, the priests have an inward focus on God’s chosen people. They do little to reach out to those outside their group.

This is one of the things Jesus changes when he fulfills the Old Testament. No longer are we to have an inward focus as his followers, as his priests. Instead he wants us to look outward.

The resurrected Jesus makes this clear before he returns to heaven. He tells his disciples to go throughout the world and make disciples. This includes baptizing them and teaching them about him (Matthew 28:19-20).

Paul—who God sends to tell the Gentiles about Jesus—acknowledges this is his priestly duty (Romans 15:15-16). As Jesus’s priest, Paul tells the Gentiles—that is, non-Jews, which means the rest of the world—the good news of salvation. This is so they can be made right with God.

Peter also touches on this in his writing about us being Jesus’s priests. He says we are to declare our adoration of Jesus to others. Implicitly this is to address those living in darkness so we can bring them into his light (1 Peter 2:9).

Jesus instructs us to tell others about him. Paul and Peter say that we do so as his priests.

3. Worship Him: Much of what God establishes in the Old Testament about the tabernacle/temple, priest, and tithes relate to worshiping him. Does this Old Testament worship have a place in the New Testament church?

Yes.

But whereas worship was the goal in the Old Testament, it might more so be the means to reach the goal in the New Testament. It is as Jesus’s church worships him and fasts that the Holy Spirit tells them what to do (Acts 13:2).

Note that they are doing two things when God speaks to them. It isn’t just worship. They also fast. Don’t lose sight of this.

Let’s consider some other mentions of worship in the New Testament.

We’ll start with Jesus and his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. She asks about the appropriate place to worship God. Jesus dismisses the discussion about location and says that his followers will worship Father God in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:20-24).

This means we can worship God anywhere and don’t need to go to a dedicated space. What matters is our attitude toward worship, to do so honestly under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Just as Peter talks about us offering spiritual sacrifices as our worship (1 Peter 2:5), Paul uses the phrase living sacrifice. It’s holy and pleasing to our Lord, serving as honest and right worship (Romans 12:1).

Paul also testifies that as a part of his faith journey he continues to worship God (Acts 24:11 and 14). Furthermore, in his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul goes into much detail about having orderly worship (1 Corinthians 14).

The author of Hebrews talks about us being thankful for the eternal salvation we received as worshiping God in reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28-29).

And remember that John’s Revelation overflows with worship. This suggests that not only is worshiping God a New Testament act, but it will also be an end times and everlasting practice (Revelation 4:10, 5:14, 7:11, 9:20, 11:16, 14:7, 15:4, 19:4, 19:10, and 22:8-9).

Yes, we will continue to worship God. But it should look much different than the Old Testament way.

The New Testament church helps their own who are in need. Click To Tweet

They Give Generously

Not only do Jesus’s followers meet in homes and minister to one another, they also have a fresh perspective on giving. Instead of tithing, which isn’t a New Testament command, they practice generosity.

The New Testament doesn’t mention Jesus’s followers taking collections to support the church infrastructure. Instead they receive offerings to help other disciples in need (Acts 24:17, Romans 15:26, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, and 2 Corinthians 8).

Notice that the focus of their generosity is to those within the church.

The only time the New Testament mentions a weekly collection (1 Corinthians 16:2) is simply to set aside money to help the struggling believers in Jerusalem, not to support a minister.

They also share what they have with one another (Acts 2:44-45 and Acts 4:32). This is significant, but it isn’t a command. Instead it’s an example.

In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul confirms the importance of helping the poor. In this case, however, he seems to be talking about all who are poor, both those within the church and those outside (Galatians 2:10).

Jesus talks a lot about money and generosity. He says that there will always be poor people among us (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, and John 12:8), but this isn’t a reason to not help them. On several occasions Jesus tells people to give money to the poor.

He says this to the rich man seeking eternal life (Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21, and Luke 18:22), the Pharisees (Luke 11:41), and his disciples, which we can rightly apply to ourselves as his present-day disciples (Luke 12:33).

There is evidence in the New Testament that the church provides financial support to missionary efforts, though Paul holds up himself as an example of paying for his own expenses as the ideal. This happens even though he feels he has a right to receive financial support as God’s messenger (1 Corinthians 9:4-18).

Regardless, this financial support is for those who travel to tell the good news of Jesus to those who don’t know him, not for local ministers at various city churches.

The New Testament churches practice of generosity is to help the poor and support missionary efforts, not to pay the salaries of local ministers or build and maintain church buildings.

A New Testament Church

This is the New Testament model for church, Jesus’s church. We have much to do.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Don’t Make Christians; Make Disciples

Go into All the World and Make Disciples

About two billion people in the world call themselves Christians, more than those who align themselves with any other religion. But how many will call themselves disciples of Jesus? The Bible never tells us to make Christians or even to be a Christian. But it talks a lot about disciples and discipleship.

Make Christians

For most people, at least in developed nations, becoming a Christian is easy. For many it involves saying a prayer. For others, going to church is all it takes. Some even look at their family tree as the only requirement for them to call themselves Christian.

Other considerations that carry the Christian label might involve joining a church, checking off a box on a commitment card, or donating money.

With these things standing as the only prerequisite, being a Christian is simple and requires little effort. Churches smugly count members, attendance, or decisions. And that seems good enough for them.

Yet to mean something worthwhile, Christianity must be more than a trivial, one-time act. It must be a commitment to live a changed life that makes a difference.

That may be why Jesus told us to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).

Stop being a Christian and instead become a disciple of Jesus. Click To Tweet

Make Disciples

A disciple is someone who follows and wants to be like their master, their Rabbi. It’s a total, all-in commitment to a different lifestyle.

Look at Jesus’s disciples. To start, they left their old life behind. Then they spent their time with him. They listened to his teaching and asked him questions. Later they told others about him and healed people in his name.

This was their training. Their prep. Then, just before he left Earth to return to heaven, Jesus told them to make disciples throughout the world.

First, they waited for Holy Spirit power. Then, when they told people about Jesus, thousands responded. The disciples continued to heal the hurting and help those in need. They taught people about Jesus and what it means to follow him and be his disciple.

They formed the first churches, which are far different than today’s versions and which pale in contrast to the gatherings that Jesus’s disciples started. They ignited a spiritual movement that spread around the world.

This is what it means to be a disciple. Few Christians do this. It’s easy to be a Christian, but Jesus doesn’t want us to be Christians. He wants us to be disciples. As disciples we point people to him and make a difference in our world—a difference that matters, both here and into eternity.

Go and Make Disciples

Stop being a Christian and instead be a disciple maker. And it starts by becoming a disciple of Jesus ourselves.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

The Four Parts of the Great Commission

Explore Jesus’s Parting Words

A few weeks ago we looked at Jesus’s final instructions as found in each of the Bible’s four biographies of him. Melding these together, we came up with three steps. First is to follow Jesus, second is to wait for Holy Spirit power, and three is to go and tell others.

Looking specifically at Matthews record of Jesus’s words in Matthew 28:19-20, we have the passage many people call the Great Commission. In this we have four action verbs.

Go: Step One of the Great Commission

Jesus tells his disciples they are to go. This is the opposite of stay. But staying is exactly what they do. They stay in Jerusalem—as initially commanded—waiting for the Holy Spirit. But once the Holy Spirit shows up, they continue to stay.

It isn’t until a wave of persecution sweeps through the church in Jerusalem that Jesus’s followers scatter. Finally, this forces them to go, as Jesus instructed.

Matthew doesn’t record where they are to go, other than everywhere. Luke, however, gives more details in the beginning of his writing in the book of Acts (Acts 1:8).

There Jesus says that under Holy Spirit power he wants his followers to tell others about him in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the rest of the world. (Again, notice that being filled with the Holy Spirit proceeds the going phase.)

From these four locations we can interpret four areas of ministry. Jerusalem, which is where we live; Judea, which is our own people group; Samaria represents other people who live nearby; and the ends of the earth mean everyone else.

Make Disciples: Step Two of the Great Commission

As Jesus’s followers go on their missionary journeys, they are to make disciples. He doesn’t say to make converts, though the implied prerequisite for discipleship is following Jesus. Instead he says to make disciples.

Conversion is a onetime effort. We make the decision to follow Jesus in an instant, but discipleship takes a lifetime. Too often the focus today is getting people to say “yes” to Jesus.

Evangelists track their number of salvation decisions, but they seldom talk about the difficult follow-up work of making disciples. In fact, they often convert people and then leave, with no discipleship work whatsoever—abandoning their converts and letting them flounder.

Since Jesus doesn’t talk about conversion—even though it’s implied in making disciples—we can wisely surmise that Jesus cares much more about disciples than decisions.

Jesus cares much more about disciples then decisions. Click To Tweet

Baptize: Step Three of the Great Commission

For our third action word we read baptize. This is phase one of making disciples. Notice that baptism doesn’t come before the instruction to make disciples, but after it. It’s the first aspect of making disciples, not a prerequisite for discipleship.

Some people, however, place baptism ahead of discipleship, often stopping at baptism and never making any effort to disciple the people they baptize. This brings us to the fourth word in the Great Commission.

Teach: Step Four of the Great Commission

The fourth action step in the Great Commission is to teach. Like the word baptize, teach is part of making disciples. It’s phase two of the discipleship process. And though baptism is a onetime action, teaching is ongoing. Teaching is the long-term effort of making disciples.

There are other aspects of teaching, which Jesus doesn’t detail in this passage, but we can infer from his actions we read about in the Bible. After teaching comes application, in which the disciples go out and do the things they learned about.

We see this when Jesus’s disciples baptize others (John 4:1-2), heal others (Matthew 10:1, Mark 6:7), and point others to Jesus (Luke 10:1).

In these last two instances, they must go. This takes us full circle, implying that the final step of discipleship is to go and repeat the process.

From Jesus’s charge in the Great Commission, he wants his followers to go everywhere, make disciples, baptize, and teach them.

How does this apply to us today?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 26-28, and today’s post is on Matthew 28:19-20.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

How Many Disciples Did Jesus Have?

We all know that Jesus had twelve disciples, right? This number occurs repeatedly in all four gospels. And the first three list them by name. Unfortunately, the lists don’t match.

Matthew and Mark list Simon Peter, Andrew, James (son of Zebedee), John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot.

Luke matches eleven of these names, but includes Judas (the son of James) and omits Thaddaeus.

John doesn’t provide a list but does mention some disciples by name: Andrew, Simon Peter, Phillip, Judas Iscariot, and Thomas. Indirectly included are John and James (“the sons of Zebedee”). However, John also implies Nathanael is a disciple, but he’s not even mentioned in the other three gospels.

So that ups the count of disciples to 14. How do we understand this?

Here are some possible explanations:

Nicknames Were Used Some of the Twelve Disciples

If we assume that Thaddaeus was also known as Judas (the son of James) as well as Nathanael, that explains everything, but this is quite a stretch.

Some Lists Are Wrong

Matthew and Mark completely agree, so their lists must be right while Luke and John must have each made a mistake.

The Group Was Dynamic

Though Jesus only had twelve disciples, there was an ebb and flow over his three years of ministry as disciples came and went.

Twelve Is Not an Absolute Number

We live in a culture that assumes precision. If we say twelve, we mean twelve, no more or no less. We don’t mean about twelve or twelve give or take a couple; we mean twelve.

I dismiss the first explanation as being too farfetched and discount the second theory as being too convenient.

While Jesus’ disciples might have changed over time, it’s more likely that the label of “The Twelve” was a generic reference and not quantifiable.

So that makes Jesus’ twelve fourteen disciples as:

  • Andrew
  • Bartholomew
  • James (son of Alphaeus)
  • James (son of Zebedee)
  • John
  • Judas Iscariot
  • Judas (son of James)
  • Matthew
  • Nathanial
  • Philip
  • Simon Peter
  • Simon the Zealot
  • Thaddaeus
  • Thomas

[See Matthew’s list, Mark’s list, Luke’s list, and Nathanael’s story.]

Read more about other people in the New Testament in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.